What does Genesis 40 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
Joseph continues to languish in a special prison attached to the house of the captain of the guard (Genesis 39:11–20). While Joseph's former master held that position (Genesis 39:1), Scripture does not use the name Potiphar from this point forward. It's unclear if Potiphar is still in that role, or if he has been replaced. After Joseph has been there "some time," likely several years, two new prisoners arrive. Pharaoh has become angry at both his chief cupbearer and his chief baker. He throws them into the prison, also called "the pit" or "the dungeon," where Joseph is. Genesis doesn't tell us what their offenses were (Genesis 40:1–3).

Just as in his prior role, Joseph's diligence and character have led to recognition (Genesis 39:21–23). He is given a kind of caregiver's role over these two new men. They, as well, are held for "some time," likely another period of years. In a dictator-driven legal system, a prisoner might be subject to almost any fate at any time. One night, both men experience vivid, impactful dreams. Egyptian religion took dreams very seriously, but these are especially jarring visions. The men are disturbed enough by the dreams that Joseph takes notice (Genesis 40:4–7).

In response to their concern, Joseph assures them that God can interpret dreams, and Joseph will pass those truths along. The first man's dream involves three productive grape vines; Joseph indicates that the man will be restored to his former position in three days. In addition, Joseph asks the man to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf. While Joseph accepts God's will for his life, he also recognizes the opportunity to advocate for his own release (Genesis 40:8–15).

The second man's dream also implies a resolution in three days, but not a happy one. The expression "to lift one's head" evokes a person looking downwards in defeat or shame as their face is raised into a more confident posture (Psalm 3:3). Both men will have their "heads lifted" by Pharaoh, but the baker will immediately be executed, and his corpse left to rot (Genesis 40:16–19).

These predictions come about exactly as Joseph predicted. Three days later, the king brings out the two men as part of his birthday celebration. One is restored to his prior role, the other is killed and his body left for scavengers. Despite this, the newly freed cupbearer makes no mention of Joseph. Either out of fear, caution, or some other motive, he says nothing. He does not lose memory of Joseph, but "forgets" him by setting his plea out of his mind (Genesis 40:20–23).

It will be another two years before a situation inspires the cupbearer to mention Joseph and his remarkable ability (Genesis 41:1, 9–14).
Verse Context:
Genesis 40:1–23 takes place during Joseph's years in a prison, or dungeon, within the house of the captain of the guard. Two men join him there for a time and experience troubling, prophetic dreams. Joseph's interpretation reveals that the former cupbearer to Pharaoh will be restored to his old job. The former baker for Pharaoh will be executed. Both interpretations are fulfilled exactly, but Joseph is soon forgotten again.
Chapter Summary:
Genesis 40 describes Joseph's interpretation of dreams for two of his fellow prisoners. Pharaoh's chief cupbearer and baker are imprisoned and experience troubling, prophetic visions. Joseph reveals the meaning of those dreams and, just as he predicts, the cupbearer is restored to his position while the baker is executed. The redeemed cupbearer, despite Joseph's plea, says nothing to Pharaoh about Joseph's situation.
Chapter Context:
Joseph remains in prison after being accused of attempted rape by Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:11–15). The Lord blesses Joseph even in jail (Genesis 39:21–23), but he longs to get out. His chance for release comes through an opportunity to interpret the dreams of two fellow prisoners. The dreams reveal that one will be restored to his old position, while the other will be killed. Joseph pleads with the servant to be restored, asking him to to plead with Pharaoh to get Joseph released, but the man fails to do so. Two years later (Genesis 41:1), another dream requires explanation, and Joseph will finally be freed (Genesis 41:12–14).
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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